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Transcript: HSE Infoline - behind the scenes

Transcript of February 2009 podcast.

You are listening to the HSE Podcast. The HSE protects people's health and safety at work.

Welcome to this addition of the HSE Podcast. In this episode we spoke to Professor Kerry Cooper, a leading expert in occupational stress, about the realities of stress in the workplace and plans for a new look HSE Stress at Work website.

Stress at work is a bottom line issue it is not a soft fuzzy issue that people say ooh I am under enormous pressure I think I will stay home for the day. It is a business issue. In the UK last year we lost thirteen point five million working days due to stress. For each individual who suffers stress that person will be off for nearly thirty one days with that illness.

We have also gone behind the scenes at info-line HSE public inquiry contact centre. We spoke to Victoria the training manager to find out who calls info line and what questions they ask.

But first here's a round up of the latest health and safety news.

In December two thousand and eight HSE launched a three month consultation on our proposed strategy for health and safety at work in the coming years.

HSE chair Judith Hackitt commented “we all share the same mission, to prevent death injury and ill health in our work places. But HSE and it's local authority partners as the regulators for health and safety cannot do this alone. This is why we are seeking support and involvement from everyone to become part of the solution”.

The consultation ends on the second of March two thousand and nine don't miss your opportunity to have your say.

HSE recently announced a new registration scheme for gas installers. From the first of April two thousand and nine all gas installers wanting to undertake domestic gas work in Great Britain will need by law to be registered with the new gas safe register to be able to lawfully carry out any work on gas fittings including gas appliances.

Visit the HSE domestic gas website for more information

In January two thousand and nine HSE launched make the promise come home safe, a hard hitting campaign targeting farmers and their families. Farming is one of the most dangerous ways to make a living in Britain. The campaign asks farmers to make a simple promise to come home safe. Farmers can visit the campaign website to pledge their support and receive a promise knot, a symbolic knot of farm bailing twine which can be used as a visual reminder of their pledge.

For links to these HSE websites and other issues covered in this episode view the transcript at

You can stay up to date with the latest news and updates from the HSE by visiting the news pages of our website at

If you would rather get the latest news by email then sign up for free regular eBulletins on a range of different health and safety subjects. Sign up at

Did you know that stress at work can cost your organisation a lot of money and lost working time. Each worker suffering from work related stress will take an average of 31 days off sick every year. The HSE is about to re-launch its stress at work website to make it easier for organisations to combat stress using the stress management standards and a range of online tools. Our reporter Stephanie Power went to see Professor Kerry Cooper a leading expert in occupational stress to find out more about the new look stress at work website and to find out why it is so crucial for organisations to combat stress in the workplace.

So the HSE is launching a new website on stress, what is going to be on that site?

The HSE develop what they call management standards for workplace stress. It is evidence based which tells you what are the factors in the workplace that cause people stress. It is based on tons of research and the website is giving you the management standards and some tools to help you out in your organisation to kind of deal with those kind of problems.

Well you talk about Management Standards what does that mean?

Management Standards are just guides on what the evidence the research evidence over the years have shown causes people stress. So there are issues like the way in which you are managed, how much control and autonomy you have over your job. Is there role clarity about your job as well? It is a whole range of factors that we know the evidence shows after tons of research, not just in the UK but abroad as well, causes people problems.

But if I was running a company why would I be bothered about this? Isn't dealing with stress just this kind of bit of icing on the cake, do I really have to bother with it how much does it matter?

Stress at work is a bottom line issue it is not a soft fuzzy issue that people say ooh I am under enormous pressure I think I will stay home for the day. It is a hard issue it's a business issue. Now there is a difference between the word pressure and stress so pressure is stimulating and motivating but when pressure exceeds your ability to cope then you are in the stress arena. In the UK last year we lost thirteen point five million working days due to stress. For each individual who suffers stress one of your employees that person will be off for nearly 31 days with that illness. The other thing is the recent foresight programme and mental capital and wellbeing, which was based on eighty studies involving four hundred scientists, found that in the UK last year we lost seven hundred and fifty pounds due to stress related mental ill health in the work place, and another nine hundred million pounds due to what we call ………which is people who are stressed out who have mental health problems who go to work but contribute no added value to the product and service.

So I run a small business and I have got a member of staff who is off for six weeks a year off sick with stress isn't it easier for me to just get rid of them?

You can't get rid of them I mean what you are doing is you have to find out as an employer why are these people off? What am I is it something I am doing, my organisation is doing that is making them ill. Our laws are very difficult anyway to let people go but forget that all you are going to do is get rid of that individual and then put another person in and if it is a damaged organisation in the sense you are doing something wrong like for example you have an exceedingly long working hours culture or you have an autocratic management style or you have a glass ceiling for women or you are not giving your people enough autonomy and control over their job. That person may leave you may find a way to get rid of them but if you bring another one in to a damaged organisation where they are not actually able to function properly and produce to the bottom line, then you are just going to repeat the problem. So what is important to do and what the Management Standards in workplace do in show you what the factors are and show you how to identify and deal with them so that you can repair your organisation and make it a fully functioning organisation.

So you have kind of won me over on that but you have also done a report for central government called ‘Mental Capital and Wellbeing' and in that report you talk about stress at work but you also talk about outside stresses. So again as a manager or somebody running a firm how responsible am I for people's stress that impacts on their work but doesn't come from their work.

Well there is one really important area and this comes in to the management standards as well which is about work life balance. On almost all employee surveys in the UK you are going to find work life balance being a problem for many organisations whether it's the SME sector, small and medium sized enterprises or the larger ones, or the larger public sector bodies. The issue is now we are no longer a manufacturing base unfortunately in the UK. We are service and a knowledge based economy. That means we have the capability now of working more flexibly then ever before and science shows that flexible working arrangements work.

Have you got any examples where a company has benefited from tackling stress in their workplace?

Yes if you look at the HSE website you will find really good practice examples. There is a County Council which has introduced a stress audit and then took action on the stress audit and reduced sickness absence levels. There are police forces that have done it. There are private sector companies that have done it. So actually if you look on the website of the HSE you will find good practice examples of organisations that have identified the sources of stress in those organisations take an action and then evidence is collected on the impact of that on the bottom line.

So finally if people want to find out about how to manage stress at work where do they go?

What people should do is go on the HSE website which is They will find out all about the management standards on stress, all the tools to help organisations identify the nature of their problem, case study examples of good practice.

Don't worry if you didn't catch the address of the HSE stress at work website visit the transcript for this podcast episode at

Now the start of a new regular feature on the HSE podcast. Have you ever called the HSE Info-line to get an answer to a burning health and safety question? If so you are one of thousands of people who contact Info-line every dayby phone or by email. We sent our reporter Stephanie Power to Info-line call centre in Wales to find out more about the work of HSE Info-line, and to put one of the staff on the spot to answer one of the top questions that we are putting to Info-line at the moment.

My name is Victoria Brady and I am the training manager at Info-line

Tell me about the Info-line, how long has it been running and how many people call it

I think we won the contract back in 1996 so it has been running since then and we get around a thousand calls a day on average.

What kind of questions do people ask you?

We get a wide range of questions really anything from what is the maximum temperature through to how do I remove the cement sheeting asbestos from my roof, right through to running laboratories for genetically modified organisms'. So it can quite vary it just depends on the kind of call you get really.

And who is it that phones you up?

Again it can be anybody we get obviously employers who want to make sure they are complying with health and safety. Employees who want to know their rights about health and safety and whether their employer is following the rules. Members of the public who have concerns about maybe construction site they see which they think is dangerous and they want to report it. I mean even right through to students we get so you know it is across the board really.

We are sitting in the call centre now and the phone you can just hear the phones beeping and people picking up calls all the time. So its busy all the time is it?

Yes we are busy all the time it is a non-stop environment. I mean you know there are just over twenty people here and we take on average about a thousand calls a day, we answer about a hundred and fifty written inquiries. So you know the people here do work hard and it is sort of a non stop environment.

At the moment it is the middle of January depending on the time of year or anything do you get certain questions asked more than others?

Yes we do. I mean during this period especially as its been so cold lately we do get what is the minimum temperature and again in the summer we get what is the maximum temperature. Around sort of bonfire night we have a lot of questions on how to hold firework displays and things like that. And obviously the obligatory sort of Christmas decoration questions at that time of year. So we do get sort of seasonal questions.

What are the Christmas decoration questions?

Just that really councils saying that they can't put them up. So I think people get quite annoyed mainly because of work at height issues or things like that but obviously again that is one of the myths of health and safety, we don't tell people you cant put Christmas decorations up.

“Good afternoon HSE Info-line Andrew speaking how can I help?”

Hi my name is Victoria Brady I am the training manager here at HSE Info-line and I am going to answer all your health and safety questions for you.

We are in the middle of winter and its pretty cold outside is there a minimum temperature in the workplace?

There is a minimum temperature which is set down in the Approved Code of Practice to the Workplace Health Safety and Welfare Regulations of 1992. It is specified as sixteen degrees Celsius and it is thirteen degrees Celsius if you are carrying out sort of severe physical effort. So yeah there is a minimum temperature set down.

How do you find out whether or not your workplace is complying with that?

Well there should be a thermometer within the workplace that is also set down in the Approved Code of Practice, and it should be located somewhere in your workplace. So I would certainly just go and check it out.

What about I mean I am sure no one can imagine it in the middle of January but what about when it gets too hot at work in the summer?

There isn't specifically a maximum temperature set down in the Workplace Health Safety and Welfare Regulations, although there is an obligation under those regulations to make sure that your employees are kept reasonably comfortable within the workplace. And there are sort of ways you can do that by maybe providing them with fans, I mean it can be as much as saying the men don't have to wear ties for a certain couple of weeks to make them feel cooler, air condition and just things like that to make sure that your employees are kept comfortable during the hot weather.

We will be putting Victoria to the test with another question next time.

If you have anything to say on what has been covered in this Podcast just let us know at Don't forget if you want to find out more about anything covered in this or any HSE Podcast you can access a transcript of each episode at

HSE's online team is keen to improve So if you have found something useful, something you dislike or you think there is something missing, get in touch. Click on the feedback link at the top of any HSE website page.

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From 30 September 2011. the way HSE is providing information services will change to a web based service, replacing the current HSE Infoline service.

Callers will be encouraged to view and download information and official guidance from our website. For more information about this change, read the press release and Q&A.

Updated 2019-04-29